Are trains and railways the most covered topic on British commemorative stamps? A survey of the topic certainly suggests as much. We counted 19 British stamp issues which feature something related to the railways – toy trains, famous trains, railway stations and infrastructure, the invention of steam power and the locomotive, even a pub sign with a train on it. Now a 20th issue – Great British Railways – can join the list.
Great British Railways stamp issue
Great British Railways, issued today, celebrates the ‘Big Four’ railway companies and features some of the classic locomotives manufactured and used in the UK. The stamps also mark the 50th anniversary of the building of the last UK steam locomotive, British Rail’s Evening Star.
By the end of the 19th century, numerous private railway companies competed fiercely across the British Isles, but by 1923, with profits waning due to the increasing competition from cars, buses and lorries, over 120 private railway companies were merged into the Big Four.
These comprised of the London, Midland & Scottish (including the Northern Counties Committee in Northern Ireland), the London & North Eastern, the Great Western – which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year – and the Southern Railways.
After the Second World War the Big Four became British Railways in 1948, and in March 1960, Evening Star brought to an end over 130 years of steam-locomotive building for Britain’s mainline railways, leaving Swindon Works in a blaze of publicity in 1960.
The nostalgia for classic locomotives and trains perhaps explains why the railways have featured so frequently on stamps, along with the historic importance of the railway network to the British postal service. Below are some of the best-known British stamp issues to feature trains, which is your favourite?
150th Anniversary of the Public Railways, 1975. This issue came about partly as a result of interest amongst philatelists and railway enthusiasts for a set of stamps featuring trains.
150th Anniversary of Liverpool to Manchester Railway, 1980. Designed by David Gentleman, these stamps commemorate the world’s first timetabled intercity railway.
Famous Trains, 1985. This set was issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway Company.
The Age of Steam, 1994. A celebration of the railways using archival black and white photographs.
Opening of the Channel Tunnel, 1994. Similar designs were also issued in France.
Classic Locomotives, 2004. These stamps commemorate some of the UK’s finest preserved steam locomotives.
The Great British Railways stamps are now available from Royal Mail Stamps & Collecting.